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City hold back to beat Stevenage

Exeter are now three points away from their league position last year after their win against Stevenage

Exeter City beat play-off chasing Stevenage at home to all but confirm their survival and claim their place in League one for a third successive season. It was a game of little quality, won by a Reece Cole tap in following a poor defensive error, with few chances for either side. Exeter centre-back Alex Hartridge was honorary captain, after it was revealed pre-match that he will leave the club at the end of the season. 

Stevenage certainly didn’t display anywhere near the quality that one would expect of a team at the upper end of the table, especially early on, with a number of sloppy clearances from the likes of Piergianni and Butler at the back, as well as keeper Taye Ashby-Hammond. Exeter found themselves with space in the final third on plenty of occasions as a result, but wingers Dion Rankine and Vincent Harper repeatedly failed to find the final pass for those arriving in the box. 

Luke Harris nearly tapped in from a few yards out after Rankine finally decided to put a cross into the box, but his effort was smothered by Ashby-Hammond. 

Stevenage’s Alex MacDonald wasted the first clear-cut chance of the game, finding himself clean through on goal after a clever flick by Kane Smith took several Exeter defenders out of play. MacDonald shot low and hard to his right but Exeter keeper Vils Sinisalo got down brilliantly to block his shot from close range. 

Stevenage soon payed the full price for their lax defending. Sonny Cox charged down a clearance from Ashby-Hammond, and the ricochet fell to Reece Cole, who calmly slotted into an empty net from a tight angle, extending his run of brilliant goal scoring form. Cole had a couple more chances to put City two up, dragging a shot wide of the left-hand post from the edge of the box, before seeing a similar attempt saved well a few minutes later. 

Exeter academy graduate Jamie Reid went close for Stevenage straight after the break, volleying a long pass from the right first time low into the ground, but Sinisalo blocked it well, before taking control of the rebound. Substitutes Niskanen and Watts both had half chances on the break and Reid went close again with a header, as the distinct lack of quality in the final third continued for both sides. 

In a very poor second half, any supporter would have told you that their highlight was Reece Cole swinging full a punch at Louis Thompson directly in front of the referee, who failed to send Cole off, either through incompetence or by way of compensation for a spate of poor decision against City in the run up to the incident. 

Exeter sat deeper and deeper in defence of their lead, but a combination of their brave defending and a lack of cutting edge on the part of the visitors meant that Sinisalo was not troubled any further and City claimed the 3 points which take them up to 12th place in the table and within of two points their tally for last season.

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